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Mount Nittany Medical Center Unveils New Cardiovascular Pavilion

by on August 29, 2019 2:59 PM

When Dr. Albert Zoda arrived at Mount Nittany Medical Center in 2000, he had years of experience as an interventionalist in a Baltimore hospital, able to provide immediate treatment for patients experiencing heart attacks. In State College, however, doctors were far more limited in what they could do.

"Back in 2000 if you needed a cardiac catheterization you were sent elsewhere," he said. "If someone had a heart attack, it was treating them with medication, a call to a helicopter and prayer.

"I remember sitting in a snowstorm with a guy in front of me and there was nothing I could do with him... We gave him medication, he was not doing well and it was a snowstorm, no helicopters. Waiting for that ambulance was the longest hour and a half of my life. I felt powerless and that we have to do better to care for our patients."

Things began to change that year when Mount Nittany introduced the county's first and only cardiac catheterization lab. In 2006, with advancements in technology and medication, state regulations changed to allow hospitals that do not perform bypass surgeries to offer interventional procedures that provide immediate lifesaving care. Mount Nittany's interventional program began in 2007 and since then none of its patients have needed emergency surgery because of a complication with an interventional procedure, said Zoda, medical director of the cardiac catheterization lab.

Thursday morning marked a major step in the evolution of heart care at Mount Nittany Medical Center as the hospital unveiled its new 26,000-square-foot, $15 million cardiovascular pavilion, just over a year after construction began.

"Here at Mount Nittany Health our commitment is to grow and change and evolve to continue to invest in services that make a lifesaving difference to the people who live in our community," Mount Nittany Health President and CEO Kathleen Rhine said. "This cardiovascular pavilion is of course an example of that.... We know that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in our community, in our nation and around the globe for men and women. Having state-of-the-art care for cardiovascular disease nearby is really important. In a cardiac emergency, minutes and seconds matter."

The pavilion, which will begin offering patient services on Sept. 4, includes two new flexible labs for cardiac catheterization and electrophysiology procedures, an EKG exam room, four stress test exam rooms and 10 private patient prep and recovery bays. Designed to allow for a more comfortable patient and family experience, it also includes an expansive waiting area, as well as administrative and staff spaces.

A private patient bay at Mount Nittany Medical Center's new cardiovascular pavilion. Photo by Geoff Rushton/

"With all the procedures that will be done here, both non-invasive and in the cardiac cath labs, it’s probably five times as much space as we utilize now," Zoda said. "So that will improve patient experience, patient care, patient privacy. It can also improve staff satisfaction. They’re not working in a confined area, so it gives everyone more space to provide the high quality care they already deliver."

The technology in the new pavilion is brand new and state-of-the-art.

"This is like having the highest-def new television now," Zoda said. "That is what the images are like. It enables the cardiologist to perform the procedure with better imaging, less radiation. It will make the procedures even better than what we are doing now. We do a great job now but this is going to take us to the next level."

The cardiac catheterization lab at Mount Nittany Medical Center's new cardiovascular pavilion. Photo by Geoff Rushton/

Zoda said the new space and technology will allow the medical center to provide care to more patients in a growing area. The Mount Nittany cardiovascular team -- which consists of medical professionals from Mount Nittany Physicians Group, Geisinger and Penn State Health -- has responded to more than 1,000 heart emergencies and has performed more than 7,000 diagnostic cardiac catheterizations since the program's inception.

"I often say that it’s the people of Mount Nittany who make it a special place," Rhine said. "I will say that our cardiovascular team is a shining example of this. This beautiful space is just a physical representation of the excellent, remarkable, state-of-the-art care [they] give."

One patient who has received that care is Kathy Fescemyer. She had tears in her eyes Thursday as she spoke to Zoda for the first time. Four years ago, after she collapsed in her Ferguson Township home, it was Zoda who placed a stent in her artery to save her life. She would later do 10 weeks of cardiac rehab at Mount Nittany.

While she was thankful to Zoda, she also praised everyone who responded after her husband, Howard, began performing CPR — from Ferguson Township police, who were first to arrive, to Centre LifeLink EMS, who kept her heart going on the way to the hospital, to the medical center staff, including the custodians, who talked to her and helped her feel she was going to be OK.

Having experienced cardiac care herself, Fescemyer was appreciative of the new pavilion.

"This is amazing, absolutely amazing," she said. "People will have so much more privacy. There’s so much room. It’s just a fantastic facility."

A cardiac imaging exam room at Mount Nittany Medical Center's new cardiovascular pavilion. Photo by Geoff Rushton/

The pavilion has received $4.5 million in community support, including the Mount Nittany Golf Classic committee aiming to raise $1 million, and a lead gift from Andy and Marilyn Charney.

Local businessman and philanthropist Galen Dreibelbis and his wife Nancy are also donors, as they were for the hospital's first catheterization lab. Galen Dreibelbis spoke of Nancy's experience receiving lifesaving care at the facility.

"When you build a facility like that, or like this, you don’t expect it to be for you. You don’t expect it to be for your family, but it was," he said. "The [new] facility we all know is going to help a lot of people. Its going to save a lot of lives. We don’t know if it’s going to be you or if it’s going to be a member of your family.  Very probably it’s going to be a lot of people we don’t know."

He added that in an age when large health systems are taking over hospitals, efforts like the new cardiac pavilion can help Mount Nittany Medical Center remain independent.

"What I would say is this facility as it's built may help us to maintain our independence as a hospital," he said. "I just don’t think it’s necessary that we have to be gobbled up by mega medical facilities. It might be at some time, I don’t know. But I think our independence is important."

For Zoda, meanwhile, the new facility means a dedicated team will be better able to extend quality care.

"We’re going to take care of more patients, and continue to do it with skill, grace and compassion," he said. "We have a tremendous team here and it really is a community... Everyone is dedicated to delivering quality care. I’m very proud to be a part of that, and fortunate."

From left, lead donors Andy and Marilyn Charney; Kathleen Rhine, Mount Nittany Health president and CEO; Dr. Albert Zoda, medical director of the cardiac catheterization lab; and donors Galen and Nancy Dreibelbis cut the ribbon for Mount Nittany Medical Center's new cardiovascular pavilion. Photo by Geoff Rushton/

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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